From friend Jim Ashworth:
With the sad news of yet another Rock and Roll legend gone, I felt compelled to post this: one of my fondest memories:
When I left Arlington in 1974 to work at Great Adventure Amusement Park in Jackson, NJ, the park had a huge 10,000+ seat arena (Cleverly named “The Great Arena!) used for shows like chariot races, circus acts, stagecoach holdups, etc. Neat, but once you saw it, you saw it.
The Jersey shore was full of vacationers every summer with not a lot to do at night but visit the piers and boardwalks on the shore. Again, neat, but not something to do again and again.
We decided we would use the arena for concerts and have “Date Night” and offer a concert and a 1/2 price ticket after 5:00. (The same successful promotion we had invented at Six Flags)
One of the first acts we booked was Chuck Berry. Back in those days (and still today), most acts traveled in buses or limos with large entourages. Not Chuck! He lived in St. Louis and when he had a gig, he would book a commercial flight and schlepp (A Jersey term) through the airport with his guitar and rent a car to get to the gig.
When we booked him at GA, the response was nuts. Not only did it empty the shore, by 3:00 we had the NJ Turnpike stacked up all the way back to Newark (GA was in the middle of the state) We were thrilled except for no Chuck!! This was in 1974, before widespread use of cell phones as hard as that is to believe. The NJ highway patrol was raising hell with us so we sent one of our operation guys, Doug Deel on his motorcycle, to go find Chuck! He rode up and down the grass median on the Turnpike and unbelievably found him. He got him to pull off the Turnpike onto the median and then found a trooper who gave Chuck an escort (with sirens and lights) to the park. I still to this day don’t know how Doug found him or convinced a NJ Trooper to give him an escort. I remember Doug saying he told the Trooper who was about to arrest him:”If you want to clear the damn turnpike, get your ass in your car and get Chuck to the concert; and go lights and sirens!”
I was in the backstage area when Chuck and the trooper pulled in. When Chuck got out of the car with his well traveled guitar case, he looked at all of us, thanked the trooper, said hi to the backup musicians we had hired and gave them the sheet music for the night’s playlist.
I said to him “Glad we managed to get you here, great to have you.” He looked around and said “Man, this place is a bitch to find” Next time you guys are gonna have to come get me!”
Chuck Berry – only one!!!!
We did send a limo for him the next time we booked him. His comment on arriving:”Damn man, a Chevy would’ve Been fine”.
Again, only one!!!
Thanks for this wonderful memory, Jim.